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Friday, 22 April 1921

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - I desire to say a few words to the amendment submitted by Senator J. D. Millen, that consideration of the Bill be postponed until after the return of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) from the Imperial Conference. Senator Millen made a very sensible suggestion. One very important reason why it should be given effect is that the Prime Minister in another place has announced that only the Tariff will be dealt with during; his absence.^ I take it his absence will commence from Wednesday next, and that being so, why should the Senate be called upon now to deal with a measure of this character 1 A definite promise -made by the Prime Minister should be held sacred. The Senate should not do anything that might, possibly, cause the Prime Minister embarrassment, and give some irreverent people an opportunity to scoff at his promise.

Senator Fairbairn - All promises are sacred.-

Senator GARDINER - I agree with the honorable senator, but I remind him that quite a number of persons in this country, if they have the opportunity, will scoff at the Prime Minister, and to some extent, in an attempt to belittle this ' representative assembly, they will direct 'their criticism at members of Parliament generally. I suggest, therefore, that the suggestion made by Senator Millen would meet the case quite well. For my part, I should take good care, in the event of a division, not to do anything that would harass the Government, by taking the business out of their hands. We know what trouble this caused in another place, and so we should be on the alert here, and not take any risks. But if Senator Millen's amendment be carried, I sincerely hope the Minister will not take it so seriously as somebody else took something else somewhere else. There is, as I have shown, sound reason for the postponement of the Bill. The Prime Minister, on his return from the Conference, may be in a position to give us uptodate information on the question of aerial defence. Of course, it will be secret. No one will know anything 'about it but himself; but he will have the information, and with the utmost' secrecy he may communicate it to the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce), and, then, perhaps, we may have presented to us a measure for air defence even more effective than the Bill now under discussion. This point, I suggest, is well worthy of consideration. I realize that in the matter of war preparations, the inner circle of a Cabinet frequently possesses information not available to the rest of the community. I hardly like to venture the statement, because it is one that may be easily denied, and is not capable of proof in an assembly like this; but the thought having occurred to me, I should like to say that when Senator Pearce and other Ministers visited Great Britain in 1911 or thereabouts, they were advised of the view held by certain high authorities that Germany's preparations for war would be complete in 1914, and that when.- they were complete, war might be expected. If this statement is anywhere near the mark, I would be satisfied if certain people of authority in this country had valuable information enabling them, we will say, to address themselves to this important question of the defence of Australia. I take it that when he returns to Australia in October or November next, the Prime Minister may be in a position to advise us upon a more perfect defence scheme! Perhaps he will - hardly as passenger's luggage - bring us some machinery for the manufacture of aeroplanes. At all events, he may have the specifications by means of which we may improve the present scheme.

I.   realize, of course, that in urging the postponement of this measure I am possibly up against the fact - I think the

Minister hinted it - that a great deal of the money has already been spent, because we voted it on the last Estimates. But I was rather amused that the Minis-' ter should endeavour to put that aspect before the Senate. It is quite true that the money was voted by Parliament, and, therefore, the Government were entitled to spend' a portion or the whole of it; hut honorable senators, I think, were not aware, when the Estimates were rushed through at the last moment, that this would be done.

Senator Wilson - It is one of the tricks of the trade to rush Estimates through, is it not?

Senator GARDINER - I suppose it is.

Senator Wilson - I am putting the question to you because you ought to know.

Senator GARDINER - I can assure the honorable senator that when I was on the Ministerial bench it was always repugnant to me to hurry Estimates of Expenditure through Parliament, because I realized that their consideration was the last opportunity that the representatives of tie people had of controlling the purse.

Senator Wilson - We have not much of a grip on it now.

Senator GARDINER - Very little, unfortunately.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator cannot say that there was not ample opportunity for debate on the last Estimates. No honorable senator was asked to curtail his remarks.

Senator GARDINER - The Minister speaks as if we were not then sitting an extra day, and crowding on the hours to dispose of the business. Indeed, we were compelled to sit all night.

Senator Pearce - That was not the position when these Estimates were under consideration.

Senator GARDINER -Possibly not; but I repeat that there was not ample opportunity for the discussion of the Estimates. The Minister cannot get away from the fact that when he was introducing the Estimates for the Defence Department, it was his duty to give a definite and detailed statement of this proposed expenditure.

Senator Pearce - I drew particular attention to it in the Senate.

Senator Wilson - I do not think it was a question of not having sufficient time for debate, but rather that the details required were not supplied.

Senator GARDINER - The Minister now says that he drew particular attention to this expenditure. I leave it to honorable senators themselves whether he left an impression in their minds that expenditure on a scheme of this magnitude was to be confined to £500,000.He did not in mine. This is only the initial . expenditure of a large sum of money, because the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) practically agrees that £500,000 per annum is only the estimated cost of the Air Defence Branch he is bringing into existence, I suppose it will be only a little while before £1,000,000, or even £2,000,000, will be required;, and the Minister, in starting a scheme of that character - because he practically started it on last year's Estimates - will have to carry the responsibility. I am not excusing myself by saying that I should have been informed, because I should have been sufficiently alert when the Estimates were under discussion to havedemanded a detailed explanation. On the next occasion I trust that I shall be alert enough to seek an explanation on every item. After the estimated expenditure has been passed, we are informed that the money has been expended - I say it advisedly - upon a branch of the Service that, with the exception of the Minister for Defence, other honorable senators know very little about.

Senator Foster - He said that very little of the money would he expended this year, but he qualified that later when he thought there was a possibility of losing his Bill.

Senator GARDINER - Very little timeremains, as the financial year ends in June. The proposal to postpone the Bill appeals to me, and I think the Minister for Defence will be well advised if he accepts the amendment moved by Senator J. D. Millen, because, after all, it is only a matter of a few months. If a portion of the money voted has been expended, as was quite justified, it will not interfere with the arrangement he has to make for the establishment of an Air Defence Force. Everything is favorable to the further postponement of the Bill. I have been addressing myself to this question at greater length than I intended, to give an opportunity for the mover of the amendment to be present. I do not intend to debate the matter at further length, but am prepared to let the question go to a vote, if necessary.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honorable senator would not like to embarrass the Government.

Senator GARDINER - I certainly would not, because the Government have mademy position such that that would be the last thing that I would think of. I do not think that I would get the same consideration from any other Government.

Senator DE LARGIE (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Truth will out.

Senator GARDINER - There are times when one has to acknowledge the fact that the Government is satisfactorily conducting the affairs of the country, but these occasions arc rare. I am not looking for such opportunities, but on this particular question I hardly think there is an honorable senator who will not agree that it is inadvisable to go on with two Air Services. I have referred to the possibility of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) returning from the Imperial Conference with important information. .

Senator Wilson - The honorable senator will realize that, after passing the Estimates, we must support the Minister in all the commitments the Government have made up to the end of this financial year.

Senator GARDINER - Unquestionably. This is not the time to question a Minister on the expenditure of the money; but I realize that Senator Wilson's chief desire in this Senate is to get behind the Government whenever they need his support.

Senator Wilson - I do not know who will wake up first, the honorable senator or the Government.I have greater freedom of action than the honorable senator.

Senator GARDINER - I am very glad to hear that, because I was trained in parliamentary work in a pretty stiff school, and I always consider it my duty to be behind the Government that I am elected to support, particularly when they are in danger. The Minister for Defence will remember in the early days, when I was a supporter of his, the circumstances surrounding the proposal embodied in a Bill he passed to prevent certain people from selling war medals.

Senator Wilson - It is a question of supporting this Government until there is a better one to follow.

Senator GARDINER - As I believe the Minister for Defence is anxious to conclude the debate, I do not wish to detain the Senate at greater length.

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